When we ask you, “What’s next, Alaska?” what comes to mind? 

Is it an Alaska where our budgets and commodity market value drive us? Or where our economic output and innovation attracts new markets? Or is it an Alaska that celebrates culture and diversity in ways that uplift our past while driving toward a new future?

Deciding what’s next is rarely about what’s directly in front of us. We do not historically define economic systems on a year-by-year basis — we define them by era. Yet year-over-year, that’s where Alaska’s legislature seems stuck, no matter the context.

We can’t deny 2020 was an outlier year. But this cyclic history is one that’s repeated itself year over year and it doesn’t look like it’ll be ending any time soon.

Alaska Version 3 aims to change this pattern, and we’ve written about that here. Today, we want to dig deeper into why focusing ahead of the here and now is important.

The here and now

Since the late 1700s, Alaska’s western-style economy has thrived by extracting resources — some that were not managed sustainably, and others that are non-renewable. It started with otter pelts, whales & fishing, followed by timber, gold, copper, and recently oil and modern-day tourism. Because of this, Alaska’s population came close to tripling between 1959 and I996, which more than tripled the number of jobs and quadrupled personal income. This incredible economic growth set the cycle we’re currently on very early: Our boom and bust economy.

Alaska Historical and Demographic Information Table

Photo credit: Scott Goldsmith and Alexandra Hill; Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

We’ve been following this trajectory set for us by previous generations — a trajectory that has us all focused on the next boom, with little thought to the legacy Alaska is leaving behind. And while those generations deserve recognition and respect, they will not be the same ideas that propel us forward. With non-renewable resources quickly drying up, asking, “What’s next, Alaska?” targets the problem at its’ core:

If money weren’t an issue, what would an ideal Alaska look like for all Alaskans? More importantly, how would we get there?

The here and now focuses only on what’s urgent for Alaskans today: finding the next boom economy, PFDs, and which party’s in office. We’re not interested in politics or choosing sides. When you look at Alaska at a 20,310-foot level, you find a few key understandings:

  1. The will of the majority is continually blocked by our people in power.
  2. What matters to urban Alaskans is entirely disjointed from what matters to rural Alaskans.
  3. Leaders achieve regenerative (renewable and sustainable) economies when the economic, civic and social needs are considered and prioritized.

Simply put: Alaska’s currently operating as a collection of communities waiting for handouts— rather than one cohesive community that pays for its own economic developmental activity.

Our best talent is either pushed to go out of state or brought in from another. We focus entirely too much on budgets, avoiding responsibility, and PFDs.

This is a problem for reasons both obvious and discreet. Without internal economic stimulation, Alaska can never grow bigger than its policymakers’ ability to manage money. 

That money is at best being diluted with the increased population (the “Alaska Disconnect”) and at worst — as we’ve seen in recent years — being reduced due to global commodity prices since we offer no value-added protection.

Furthermore, we cannot truly become a place of sustainable living, infrastructure, or innovation that all budding communities require to grow.

Which begs a deeper question: Who are the thought leaders driving this plateauing trajectory?

Alaska’s thought leaders

Our current way of navigating the oncoming years of Alaska dates back to 1966 — when, coincidentally, both Wally Hickel served as the second governor of Alaska and Willie Hensley became a principal founder of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN).

Wally Hickel

Wally Hickel is best-known for overseeing the discovery of oil fields at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, which undoubtedly changed Alaska’s economic course forever.

Willie Hensley

Willie Hensley is best-known as an Alaskan Native leader and writer, author of “What Rights to Land Have the Alaska Native:  The Primary Issue”, which played a critical role in the creation of the Alaskan Native Claim Settlement (ANCS) — also undoubtedly changing Alaska’s economic course forever.

To keep it straightforward, Prudhoe Bay and ANCS both launched Alaska into the economic cycle we know today: Our main “selling point” at a civic and economic standpoint starts and ends with our oil production. The 44 million acres of land and $963 billion payment Nixon granted Alaskan Natives in 1971 was in direct response to this economic gold mine (well, “oilfield”).

Jay Hammon and Cliff Groh

These events continued to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and Permanent Fund Dividend with Jay Hammond and Cliff Groh, and further into Alaskan Native Rights with the development of the 13 Alaska Native corporations.

With this context, it’s easy to see how closely connected thought leadership is with politics, economy, and potential in Alaska. This potential has driven us for so long — but as we’ve seen in history, potential alone isn’t sustainable.

With the future of Alaska seemingly set in a single way of doing things — what room is there for communities to be part of the greater conversation of where we’re headed? Do we have no say in the “Next Alaska” we’d like to see in 3, 30, and 300+ years?

Alaska Version 3 believes we do. As citizens of Alaska who care about the place we want to grow future generations — and not just politicians who struggle to even decide who is calling themselves into a session — we have a choice in the matter of what comes next. And really, finding the answer to all these questions is simple.

The answer lies in finding clarity

Realistically, this is not a question to answer single-handedly or one to benefit the current group in power at the time. Nor should it be. The future of Alaska looks different for everybody, and that shouldn’t stop us from starting the conversation — it should encourage us to find more voices to answer.

AKV3 is here to ask the crucial questions that will move us out of the here and now cycle of boom and bust economies and towards a better-rounded version of the Alaska we want to see.

Ultimately, we all lack the vision and plan for what’s next. And we should no longer rely on policymakers, legislature, and federally-funded budgets to get us there because we all live in Alaska and should all have a say in our future here.

So what’s next, Alaska?

  • Is it a future of innovation and economic stimulation across Alaska?
  • Is it going back to our roots of fishing, mining, and hunting to provide quality specialty goods to the rest of the world?
  • Is it something more significant than we’ve ever seen in Alaska — one that attracts new thought leaders, economies, and communities?

The decision is ours to make.

Help us find the answer

We don’t expect you to have any answers right now — but even just asking the right questions can bring us leaps and bounds ahead of where we are now.

Currently, AKV3 is sending email updates focusing on the discussion, blog, and our future events. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get involved with Alaska Version 3, please sign up using the form below.